How FMR's priorities for the Mississippi River fared this session

A collage of scenes showing FMR staff working on various legislative activities in and out of the Capitol building.

The theme of this year’s legislative session turned out to be "creative problem-solving."

Amid a session slowed by political and budgetary friction, we worked with partners and allies to think outside the box — looking for opportunities to move things forward in ways we maybe hadn’t considered from the outset.

That approach netted the biggest win of the session: funding for a carp barrier that will protect so many of Minnesota’s waters from the invasive species. In addition to advocating for the carp barrier, River Guardians also played a big role in helping to protect the Clean Water Fund after the emergence of a proposal that threatened to undermine the fund’s integrity. And we planted the seeds for more action to come on both clean-water crops and lower-carbon fuel policies.

With a shrinking surplus and looming election, this legislative session was always unlikely to be a repeat of 2023, which saw sweeping wins for the environment. But that didn’t stop us from getting things done and making real progress on issues that matter to the Mississippi River.

Below, take a closer look at how FMR's priorities fared during the 2024 legislative session.

Long-overdue funding for an invasive carp barrier

We’ll let the words of respected invasive carp researcher Dr. Peter Sorensen sum up our feelings: “Minnesotans,” he said, “should be proud.”

After some early session uncertainty, FMR and the Stop Carp Coalition found an unexpected source of funding for an invasive carp deterrent — made possible by an important partnership between the Minnesota DNR and federal agencies, as well as the 1,000-plus River Guardians who signed our petition or sent messages to legislators. These efforts mean a total of $12 million will go toward construction of a carp deterrent at Lock and Dam 5, helping to protect the Mississippi River and its many watersheds from the threat of invasive carp

“Without a carp deterrent, the native fish and river ecosystem did not have a chance; now they most definitely do,” Sorensen said. 

Read more: How funding for a carp deterrent came together

Supporting clean-water crops and Forever Green

The path to funding for clean-water crops this session was always murky. Budget constraints in the Legislature meant there wasn’t much money available, and when decision-makers divvied up the spending pie, sustainable agriculture got a relatively small number.

Thankfully, one of the most ardent supporters of clean-water crops in the Senate came to us with an idea. One that would tap into an alternative source of funding, hopefully allowing Forever Green and local businesses to continue getting the financial support they need to get these crops on the landscape.

Read more: Keeping up momentum for clean-water crops

Moving toward lower-carbon transportation

While the Minnesota Legislature did not pass a Clean Transportation Standard, discussions about the bill over the past several months will enrich our future advocacy efforts in 2025 and beyond. 

Adoption of such a standard would significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation and agriculture sectors (the two biggest emissions sources in the state) while helping to fast-track equitable vehicle electrification. It would help the Mississippi River both by addressing climate change and incentivizing the planting of crops that reduce runoff nitrate or fertilizer pollution

Naturally, we’re disappointed, but we look forward to more conversations and engagement with more communities, individuals, and organizations to strengthen lower-carbon fuel policies in the future. 

Read more: What's next for cleaner transportation in Minnesota

Safeguarding the Clean Water Fund

River Guardians deserve a big shout-out for helping to make this session a win for the Clean Water Fund. When draft bill language that strayed from the Clean Water Council’s recommendations came out, these advocates sent messages to lawmakers — urging them to stick to the council’s suggestion. The final version does just that, reflecting the council’s recommendations almost entirely. 

Read more: What made it into final Clean Water Fund legislation

Reviving community oversight of the MPCA

Re-establishing public oversight of major Minnesota Pollution Control Agency decisions remains near the top of our to-do list. Unfortunately, it became clear early in this legislative session that the political support for a revived community board wouldn’t coalesce. This isn’t the end: We still consider this a priority, and there will be more to come in the future. 

Read more: Restoring public oversight of major MPCA decisions

Other victories for our rivers, lakes and streams

In addition to our progress with the priorities above, lawmakers advanced several important clean water initiatives that FMR strongly supports. That includes:

A huge win for public waters

Thanks largely to the efforts of our friends at Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA), lawmakers clarified that public waters are protected under statute law if they meet the definition set in statute — even if waterways were erroneously left off the state’s flawed Public Waters Inventory Map. 

Lawmakers also set aside $8 million to conduct a comprehensive update of the Public Waters Inventory over the next eight years. This state-led process has the potential to restore public water protections to hundreds of miles of state waters.

Addressing nitrate contamination in the Karst region

Minnesotans in the state’s Karst region will soon have access to safer drinking water thanks to state and federal advocacy efforts led by MCEA and supported by numerous environmental organizations (including FMR). The $16 million in investments approved by legislators this section is a laudable start — but there's more work to be done to address the root cause of nitrate pollution.

Read more about what passed and what else needs to happen.

Preventing pollution from 'forever chemicals'

It’s safe to say that Minnesota deserves more than our fair share of the blame for PFAS contamination. While the state made important progress in PFAS pollution last year (including the passage of Amara’s Law), these chemicals keep making bad headlines for all the wrong reasons.  

Thankfully, in response to an excellent report from MCEA and the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, lawmakers allocated $350,000 this session to help address PFAS from wastewater treatment plants. 

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Upcoming Events

Tuesday, June 25, 2024 - 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Nicollet Island, Minneapolis
New date: Saturday, August 10, 2024 at 5 p.m.
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Wednesday, August 14, 2024 - 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Pine Bend Bluffs Scientific & Natural Area, Inver Grove Heights